Photo by Jeff Vorva
For a second or two, a referee is able to match Evergreen Park’s Jalen Lynch stride-for-stride but Lynch passed the ref and the Oak Lawn defense in a 61-yard run in the Mustangs’ 49-24 shocker over Oak Lawn Friday night.
Four years ago, Evergreen Park’s current seniors arrived expecting one thing, and in the seasons since have mostly gotten something else.
Friday, Oak Lawn visited the Mustangs expecting to make a bit of history, but may have instead become a page in someone else’s scrapbook.
With a wild, 49-24 win on Senior Night, Evergreen Park may not have stolen the Spartans’ mantle as a South Suburban Red team on the rise. But at the very least, the Mustangs, whose seniors saw their forebears go 10-1 when they were eighth graders and reach the 4A semifinals the year before that, sense a reversal of fortunes that had them sliding from 6-4 to consecutive records of 3-6 their sophomore and junior seasons. With Friday’s win, they improved to 3-5 overall, won their first conference battle and broke a five-game losing streak but are not eligible for the Illinois High School Association playoffs.
“We’re not going to make it this year, but in a couple of years we’ll be back in the playoffs,” senior defensive lineman Robert Hicks said. “I feel like our program has definitely taken a step in the right direction.”
“Starting with this game, this is the start of our program — we’re going to be good in the future,” senior wideout Bomani Robinson said. “We lost our playoffs, we wanted to take theirs.”
Indeed, Evergreen Park may have dealt a death blow to the postseason hopes of the Spartans (4-4, 2-3). Oak Lawn last won five games in 2009, the last of its eight playoff berths in the school’s 64 seasons of football.
Now, the Spartans have to beat crosstown rival Richards (6-2, 5-0) to even be considered for an at-large berth, which are awarded based on opponent wins — and Oak Lawn entered the week tied for the lowest such total in its conference.
“We’re making progress,” said third-year Spartans coach Nick Novak, whose first two teams went 1-8 and 3-6. “But sometimes you move a boulder, sometimes a little pebble.”
Evergreen Park rocked it on this occasion. Though Oak Lawn rallied from a 21-7 deficit last year to beat them, this time the Mustangs barely blinked when their 21-3 lead at the 8:27 mark of the third quarter turned into 24-21 deficit 6 1/2 minutes later.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, sophomore quarterback Jack Manso connected on a deep ball up the hash marks to Trevon Woods, who turned it into a 35-yard touchdown. It was the third touchdown pass of the day for Manso (9-of-19, 277 yards) and gave Evergreen Park the lead for good.
“Jack comes out and plays like he wants to win,” said Robinson, who had touchdown catches of 31 and 24 yards among his six grabs for 172 yards. “He acts more like a senior than most of us on the team.”
In less than five minutes, Evergreen scored three times more to end the suspense: on a 2-yard run by Dave Torres after Oak Lawn botched a punt snap; an eight-yard Myron Harris run; and a 10-yard interception return from Karlton Carpenter.
“It was a perfect Senior Night,” Manso said. “It was the seniors’ last game here. I love to play good for them — I didn’t want to ruin it for them.”
Manso didn’t, guiding a surprisingly vertical passing attack.
“We haven’t passed in the past like that,” Manso said. “Today, we saw no safety back, so we figured, ‘Hey, let’s throw the ball deep.’”
“We took what they gave us,” EP coach Jerry Verde said. “And they were giving us Bomani on the outside.”
It was probably in an effort to slow Jalen Lynch. The senior running back took Evergreen’s first play from scrimmage 61 yards for a touchdown and finished his day with 180 yards on 18 carries.
Robinson’s first scoring grab, with 4:45 left in the first quarter, made it 14-0. Donal Nugent had a 38-yard field goal to cut it to 14-3 early in the second.
It was 21-3 when the Spartans rallied, scoring on a 56-yard screen pass from Mark Virruso to Nick Puente, a 55-yard return of a blocked field goal by Jalan Gaines and a 10-yard interception return by Jaime Marinez.
Puente, who went over 1,000 yards rushing for the season, finished with 112 tough yards on 27 carries. Virruso went 10-of-19 for 107 yards, but in the Spartans’ option game managed only three yards on the ground.
“Our key was stop (Puente),” Robinson said. “Our next key was stop the quarterback. Read the option, flow to the ball.”
The Mustangs finish their season at Tinley Park. Verde, who won the 2012 6A title at Crete-Monee before moving to his alma mater, Marian Catholic, for three seasons, is grateful for the steps his team has taken in two seasons at Evergreen Park.
“I wish we were playing to get to the playoffs, but we’re not,” Verde said. “Still, these kids have been great. They show up to do the work every day. We’re in a great community that’s really supportive of us — I mean, Week 8, no playoff hopes, the kind of crowd we had, that’s impressive — I feel blessed to be here, truly.”